We can make more room for alternative transport modes while respecting the preferences of people who appreciate the efficiency of one-way streets.
By Kent Lee
Published June 07, 2012
I am a huge fan of Raise the Hammer and most of their initiatives. We can see that complete streets, and rapid transit initiatives are being supported now by politicians, the media, and even the chamber of commerce, and this is thanks in no small part to the dedication of the staff at RTH.
I truly believe that improving pedestrian, cycling, and transit conditions will have a transformative effect on the city, and can actually make it 'the best city in Canada to raise a child' as the City's vision states.
However, I believe that too often, livable streets get conflated with two-way streets. Evidence from other cities has shown otherwise, and indeed, one-way streets actually can provide opportunities to reach the livable streets goal in ways that two-way streets cannot.
"One-way streets are incompatible with walkable, livable streets."
This sentiment is all too common in Hamilton, and I suppose the deduction is obvious. The one-way streets in Hamilton are crummy, therefore it is due to the fact that they are one-way, and only two-way streets can be walkable.
I believed the myth too, for a time, but then I visited Montreal. Montreal is easily the best walking city in Canada, and some of their most lively streets are one-way streets. See Boulevard Saint-Laurent for proof. But when somebody mentions Montreal here, we get flooded with a lot of excuses why Montreal is so different from Hamilton. Isn't that just another form of exceptionalism, which RTH editor Ryan McGreal has written about?
Indeed, I find some of the one-way streets in Hamilton not just unpleasant, but downright offensive. But in all honesty, I also find Upper James street to be equally offensive, despite the fact it has two-way traffic. The best thing we can do to improve our one-way streets is not to make them two-way, but to improve/widen the sidewalks, add a bike path, and calm the speed of traffic.
Even Ward 8 Councillor Terry Whitehead has been noted to be in favour of calming traffic measures on downtown streets.
And before somebody asks me if I think Upper James should be one-way: if it came with a cycle track and improved sidewalks, then yes, making it one-way would be a huge improvement over the status quo on that ugly street.
It's also not incidental that the famous on-street cycle tracks which have been installed in Montreal, Portland, New York, Vancouver, have almost exclusively been built along one-way streets. One-way streets are safer for cycle tracks, as there are fewer potential conflicts with turning traffic.
Now it may sound to you like I am a one-way street obsessed driving type. On a personal level, I don't drive, and so I'm quite agnostic towards street directions, but it cannot be denied that one-way systems give more opportunity for alternative transport modes to share the same roadway.
But there is an even more important reason to give one-way streets proper consideration. Fact is, many many people in this city value the efficiency of one-ways, and this is a democracy. Do you know what happens if a large section of the population feels they're being ignored? They start voting for a guy like Rob Ford.
Let that be a reminder that in a democracy, the pendulum swings the other way if you pull too hard.